Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nothing dirty about this picture

(First published in The Pioneer dated December 29, 2011)


In recent days, some ‘intellectuals’ have been critical of the coverage given by the print and the electronic media to the death of Bollywood icon Dev Anand. Their grouse has been that the film world does not deserve the attention that it has been getting, largely because it is not a ‘priority’ subject for the millions of people who have many other more pressing concerns that the media needs to highlight. There is no dispute with the contention that the issues that matter to the vast majority of the people in the country do not get the mileage they should, and this anomaly has to be corrected.

But the criticism unleashed by the ‘intellectuals’ has to do with more than just that. It reflects a disdain for the film industry that the ‘cerebral-minded’ nourish, and that attitude is as archaic as the notion of naachne-gaanewale log being a distraction to a society which is engaged in more meaningful pursuits. It’s as if performing arts is not ‘art’ if it happens to be films.

The Indian film industry cannot be written off in such disparaging terms, and those who do so are either unaware of or do not wish to acknowledge its contribution to the economic growth of the country. Films are no more a motley collection of fancy dramatists wearing flashy clothes and crooning to mushy sentimental songs given music by a bunch of tabalchis and harmonium players hiding behind bushes while the shots are taken. The film industry is a robustly growing economic activity that encompasses a huge swathe of the working population. The glowing tributes paid to the likes of Dev Anand —and earlier in the year to Shammi Kapoor — reflect the importance of the industry as much as they hail these charismatic personalities.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with KPMG has been keenly following the growth of the Indian entertainment industry — of which films is a major component — for some years now. Its latest study, FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2011, demonstrates just why films and those connected with it cannot be any longer dismissed as, at best more style than substance, and at worst a wasteful activity.

According to the report, the Indian film industry was estimated at a whopping Rs 83.3 billion in 2010. While this reflected a decline in revenue by close to seven per cent over 2009 figures, it was still enormous. Moreover, the growth in 2011 has been estimated at over nine per cent, which incidentally is far more than the close to seven per cent GDP growth the country is expected to register. This alone should make the Indian film industry the doyen of business.

But there’s more it promises to offer: According to the FICCI-KPMG report, the growth is estimated to touch 9.6 per cent — something that the Union Government would give its right arm to achieve for the country — and reach revenues of Rs 133.5 billion. The gargantuan economic activity in turn provides direct and indirect employment to several tens of thousands of people across the country, the estimate of which is not even possible to quantify in accurate terms.

While the Government struggles to raise finances for meaningful projects and continues to either throw or prepare to throw the little it has down the drain on economically nonsensical projects such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the proposed National Food Security Bill, the film industry has shown the way to rationalise costs and improve the lot of its stakeholders. The report points out that in 2009, the total cost of making a film averaged at Rs 650 million. This was pruned down to Rs 580 million in 2010, by effecting cuts in ‘total talent cost’ that predominantly comprises the amounts paid to the director and the star-cast of the film. The talent cost was brought down to Rs 270 million from the earlier Rs 350 million. Does this not hold a lesson for the Government — and for all those ‘intellectuals’ who speak of better management of financial resources to improve the lot of the masses — on cost reductions for the benefit of the stakeholders? Can the film personalities be then termed as those engaged in frivolous activities which do not impact the lot of the people?

The film industry has shown the way to innovation, which has been lacking in a Government that is clueless on how to adapt to changing circumstances, and certainly missing in the thoughts of the ‘intellectuals’ who cannot see anything beyond their parochial capacities. Realising that costs of production have been rising and the imperative to reach the largest number of audiences at the shortest possible time becoming ever more critical, the film industry has reinvented the art of marketing films.

It has begun aggressively using the cable and satellite route to reach out to the people rather than merely depending on releases of films in single-screen and multiplex theatres. Riding on this fresh idea, the C & S market grew at a scorching pace of 33 per cent. The FICCI-KPMG report says that films may now be specifically made to be released exclusively through the C & S route. The impact of these innovative ideas on the market and on the growth of employment in the sector cannot be over-emphasised.

The key drivers of this growth of the Indian film industry are increasing urbanisation and a rising middle class population — none of which can be considered as evil or avoidable. The largest beneficiary of, and contributor to, this growth have been Hindi films, of which people like Dev Anand had been — and will continue to be even after his death — an inalienable part. The Hindi film industry contributed as much as 78 per cent of the total domestic box officer collections in 2010. As many as 139 Hindi films were made during the year, and while most of them did not do too well, they nevertheless contributed to the economy through the employment opportunities they generated in many forms across the country.

Apart from contributing significantly in business terms, the Hindi film industry has been an ambassador of social good. There are few sectors in the country — politics certainly not being among them — where secularism is practiced as honestly as it is in this industry.

It is amazing that critics have been glossing over this vital truth, although they do not mind rubbing shoulders with politicians who spread disharmony in the name of caste and religion. The antics of a Lalu Prasad Yadav are hailed as a fight for ‘social justice’, whereas the path-breaking performance of Dev Anand in Guide is dismissed as nothing more than silver screen heroics. The film’s message has no weight.

It’s time that critics of the film industry see the complete picture. Or, may be, they should see The Dirty Picture — to understand how marvellously Hindi films have evolved economically and connected contextually with the people.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mere lip service to farmers will not do

(First published in The Pioneer dated December 22, 2011)


On December 15, the Rajya Sabha took up a short-duration discussion on the crucial issue of agrarian crisis – including the large number of suicides by farmers in many States – facing the country. The discussion was led by Mr Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP and Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress. There were less than 60 members present during the discussion, and just a handful of them participated in it. Many of those who spoke left soon after making their speech. If there is to be an indication of how seriously our parliamentarians take the subject of farmers’’ plight, this will serve as a good one. It is possible that many absentee Members of Parliament had ‘more pressing’ affairs to take care of. It is also quite possible that some of them were not aware that the matter was to be discussed – although this is difficult to believe since the information about such discussions is available to MPs well in advance. Whatever may have been the reason, the message that the people have got is: Left to themselves the MPs would not like to waste their valuable time discussing ‘unglamorous’ issues like agriculture.
If elected – or nominated – Members of Parliament do not discuss the misery of our farming sector that is a source of livelihood to nearly 65 per cent of the country’s population, who will? Industry has a number of organisations such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Indian Industry, Associated Chambers of Commerce and various others to lobby for the cause of the business community. Dalit entrepreneurs too now have a platform through the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But the few major farmers’ organisations that exist do not, unfortunately, have the gravitas that industry lobbyists enjoy to make their voice heard and their suggestions implemented by the Government. Perhaps that is one reason why the farmers have such little leverage with the parliamentarians. Of course, trade bodies can argue that they have factored in the farming sector in their activities and that they regularly represent the cause of agriculture before the authorities. But that is at best a supplementary activity for them, and the vehemence that they demonstrate on issues that concern industry is missing when they lobby for the farmers.
During the discussion on December 15, some MPs demanded that a special session of Parliament be convened to discuss the entire gamut of the crisis that faces Indian agriculture. That’s not a bad idea, since it will serve two purposes: One, it will ensure the presence of a majority of the members in the House; and two, it will reflect the sense of the House in acknowledging that our farming sector needs urgent attention. Who knows, such a special session could even trigger the process of sweeping reforms in the agrarian sector. The point is whether the major political parties will persist with this demand and find time for this issue in the midst of their other occupations like debating the Lokpal Bill, foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and pension funds, and such other ‘major’ concerns.
The agriculture sector is full of paradoxes that should seriously worry our policy-makers. Only three years ago, India was ranked second in the world in the production of wheat and paddy, yet 48 per cent of the farming households are today steeped in debts; farmers toil to produce a record output of nearly 600 million tonnes of food and vegetables every year, yet 90 per cent of them live below the poverty line. While millions in the country go improperly fed – according to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index, India is among the world’s 29 nations with the highest level of hunger and malnourished children – more than eight lakh tonnes of wheat and rice rotted in the many godowns owned by the Food Corporation of India between 1997 and 2007. More current figures, some of them unofficial, point to a similar despairing situation. And, while the contribution of agriculture to the country’s Gross Domestic Product is at around 17 per cent – far lower than more than the 50 per cent during the first Five Year Plan but still significant – more than 1,70,000 farmers committed suicide in 2009 alone because they could not find a way out of the huge debts they were immersed in.
Parliament must go beyond merely taking note of these anomalies. Quick-fix solutions like announcing doles for families of the farmers who ended their lives or free electricity for farming activities are populist measures that do not address the deep-rooted malaise that the farming sector is reeling under. The overnight stay by high-profile politicians in the home of a destitute farmer is even more worthless – and is actually a demeaningly patronising attitude of the privileged towards a farmer who wants access to a dignified living.
The potential for reforming the agriculture and allied sector is huge. Therefore, sweeping changes cannot happen in one go. Even if there are piecemeal changes, it is welcome because it would indicate the beginning of a long-pending process. At the same time, any kind of reform of any magnitude must bear in mind the fundamental fact that farming has to be made remunerative. All the proposed changes must work in that direction. When Hindi film actor-director Manoj Kumar crooned on the screen, Meri desh ki dharti sona ugle; ugle heerey moti, he perhaps inadvertently made the basic point that seems to have escaped the attention of our policy-planners in the years that came later: Agriculture should be paying and not get reduced to a mere vocation for the villagers who have nothing better to do. If farmers begin to give up agriculture because it is getting increasingly unremunerative, the country could face a serious food crisis in the years to come. With the country’s population projected to reach close to 152 crores by 2030, the demand for food alone is expected to be 450 million tonnes. If the farmer-base shrinks rapidly, that figure will be a tall order to meet domestically.
Agriculture, thus, is a business activity that needs to be policy-driven as much as industry does. Farmers must get quality seeds and fertilisers at appropriate rates and on time; they must be properly compensated for their produce – the minimum support price that Governments offers them are generally way below the actual cost of production, and even that price is on offer for not all the 20-odd crops that are supposed to be covered by the MSP. This discourages the farmers from diversifying their cultivation and seeking a mix of food grain production and the cultivation of cash crops like vegetables and fruits. Equally important is that the farmers have access to ‘affordable’ credit as opposed to ‘easy credit’ from money-lenders, because the latter often comes with such harsh riders that the beneficiaries invariably fail to meet their obligations and end up taking their own lives as a way out of the misery.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Dubai story

Dubai: The Making of a Megapolis
By Pranay Gupte
Rs 699/-

(First published in The Pioneer dated December 18, 2011)


In the turmoil of the Arab Spring, one country remained untouched – the United Arab Emirates. Although ruled since its inception in the early 1970s by the royal family with Islamic ideals, its people have never felt the need to rise up against what citizens in other countries in the region perceived in their regimes as dictatorial, despotic and repressive. The reason is apparently simple: The people of the UAE have not felt repressed or left out of the prosperity that has been generated for the rulers and their nation. The sense of inclusiveness has kept the UAE intact.

There is no better example to understand this than the success story of Dubai. Easily the most prominent emirate in the UAE, it is a jewel not just in the UAE’s crown but also the business community of the world. Just how the transformation of a desert sheikhdom into a glittering and dynamic global hub came about, is the story told by well-known author and journalist Pranay Gupte in Dubai: The Making of a Megapolis. At first glance it would appear that the book is nothing more than a public relations exercise on behalf of the rulers of Dubai to showcase their achievements. There is no denying that the purpose, even if not intended, has been met. But the book is about more than that. It is a marvellous narration of the heights that a city – or a nation, for that matter – can attain if the leadership is far-sighted, determined, willing to take people along and open to fresh ideas.

It has not taken for ever for Dubai to reinvent itself from a nondescript fishing village to what it is today. In a mere two decades the city has metamorphosed into what can only be termed as ‘futuristic’, and it is continuing to get better even as several other Arab countries are grappling with an uncertain future. Gupte has skillfully traced the story from its roots that go deep and before the UAE itself came into being. In the process, he has also underlined the remarkable unity of purpose that the rulers of the various emirates have demonstrated in building the UAE and its various constituents. Their sagacity coupled with a humane touch in governance that is so rare in the Arab region – and in many democracies as well – has ensured that petty squabbles that could have derailed the development process, never took place. And, if there were some they were effectively dealt with by being nipped in the bud.

The book is an eye-opener for those of us who have been led to believe that Dubai is a dazzling entity because it has cleverly leveraged the enormous amount of oil resources it commands. As Gupte points out, the impression is fallacious. Dubai in the next few decades will run out of petroleum wealth. It has know that for some time now, which is why its rulers and policy-makers years before set in motion a plan of action to develop the emirate into a centre for international services in the banking and financial sectors and an export hub. To meet that goal, world-class infrastructure has been created that even several developed nations in the West have been unable to replicate. Dubai’s ports, airport, roads and civic amenities are among the very best in the world. Luxury tourism has catapulted the emirate to the top league of cities that attract the best and the most affluent clientele.

The author has devoted a large amount of print space to recount in much detail the visionary rulers the UAE has had in the form of the Al Makhtoum family members. Ruler after ruler from this family diligently worked to create the Dubai that we see in the finished (or still evolving?) form that it is today. Gupte provides a fascinating account of the rise and rise of the family and its contribution to the growth of the various emirates, particularly Dubai. In that story lies the secret of the Dubai Phenomenon. What is amazing in the tale is the almost complete absence of arrogance in the rulers who were almost apologetic about their wealth, and have been always seeking to offload it for larger, charitable causes. Is it any wonder then that the people in the Emirates are so emotionally attached to them?

The author provides many interesting insights into the minds of the rulers. Sheikh Mohammed, for instance, would visit the various construction sites where Indian and Pakistani labourers were at work, and enquire about their welfare. He would pull up officials for the poor quality of houses these workers lived in and ensured that they were given better facilities. In another case, a ruler of the family called a meeting of Indian and Pakistani businessmen operating in Dubai and told them politely but firmly that he would not tolerate any friction between them on account of their nationality. He then suggested with a smile that at least in Dubai they should leave their animosity behind and work for the mutual prosperity of self and the emirate. Needless to say, the message was well received. One does not hear of communal clashes in Dubai.

Gupte is absolutely on target when he points out that the success of Dubai reflects the enormous contribution of people from India. This has been often acknowledged by the Sheikhs there. That is one of the reasons why the UAE continues to enjoy cordial relations with India.

In constructing the success story of Dubai, Gupte deconstructs the stereotypical Arab leader, generally seen as brashly opulent, untrustworthy and closed to modern thoughts. The author says that many of such erroneous impressions would evaporate after one met the rulers of Dubai. In any case, the transformation of Dubai could not have been possible if the emirate – and the UAE – had been ruled by sheikhs who were consumed by a sense of their own wealth and adulterous adventures.

The Makhtoum Tradition is an enduring one, as Mr Gupte repeatedly underlines throughout his narrative, and will be enduring as long as it remains faithful to the ideals that its early rulers laid down. The ‘shop till you drop’ Dubai will continue to pull Indians to this emirate, for a visit if not to always settle down. But more than that, Dubai will remain the benchmark for capitalism with a soul.

Congress just doesn't get it

(First published in The Pioneer dated December 15, 2011)


Some people never wake up and smell the coffee. They live in a world of fantasy that is created by their own fallacious interpretations and misreading of situations that are stark enough for any bipartisan mind to understand. Thus, their action in response to these situations is inevitably flawed, and contributes to further complicating matters when the need is to de-escalate and reconcile. In an attempt to be too clever by half, they end up with egg on their face. This is what is happening with the Congress-led UPA as it confronts a combined Opposition over the allegation that the Government has backed out of its commitment that it had made to bring before Parliament an effective Lokpal Bill.
The Congress is primarily responsible for betraying the ‘sense of the House’ that Parliament expressed when it adopted a resolution for a strong Lokpal institution. Principal among the points in the resolution was that the entire bureaucracy would be covered under the Bill and that there would be provisions for the establishment of a citizens’ charter to address the grievances of the people who fail to get the desired services from Government departments. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal has prepared a report that excludes both these points. Of course, the report is full of dissent from members who belong to the Opposition, but more importantly, there are also a few Congress members who are said to have protested against the exclusion. The parliamentary panel headed by Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi, has completely disregarded the popular sentiment expressed not just in Parliament but also within the Standing Committee. And that has led to the fresh round of agitation.
Anna Hazare’s warning of a prolonged campaign against the Government notwithstanding, the Congress this time has to also face an openly united Opposition on the issue. Prominent leaders of BJP and its allies, CPI(M) and CPI, besides others such as TDP, Samajwadi Party and BJD, shared the platform at Jantar Mantar during the anti-corruption activist’s one-day sit-in on December 11. This is the first time that Opposition leaders have come out in the open and endorsed the anti-corruption campaign. Until now, the Congress had been trying to find political cover by propagating that Mr Hazare was subverting parliamentary democracy in bypassing the political system, ridiculing politicians and seeking to impose his will on representatives elected by the people. This was an attempt by the Congress to unite the Opposition against the movement. But Mr Hazare has obviously seen through the game-plan. He invited political leaders at the December 11 event. They came, they saw and they assured the gathering that they were with him on most of the contentious issues.
The Congress’s troubles have thus manifested multiple times. And it is not just on the twin issues of including the entire bureaucracy and citizens’ charter within the Lokpal ambit. The Opposition leaders who attended the December 11 sit-in and addressed the gathering spoke in one voice in favour of bringing the Prime Minister within the Lokpal’s ambit. This is something that the Congress has strongly resisted, considering that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who presides over a Government that is steeped in corruption scandals, could be hauled up for an explanation. The Opposition leaders left no scope for ambiguity, and indicated that they were set to challenge the Congress-led Government in Parliament if the Lokpal Bill is going to be what the Standing Committee has designed it should be.
But that is not all. Party leaders who attended the December 11 event also slammed the Government for seeking to keep the Central Bureau of Investigation out of the Lokpal’s jurisdiction. As one speaker pointed out, the investigating arm of the CBI that handles allegations of corruption against Government servants should be brought under Lokpal. Other speakers too pointed to the political misuse of the investigating agency, and said it could end only after the CBI reported to an independent authority such as the Lokpal. Given the manner in which the Congress has been using the CBI to fix or bail-out political leaders – the incidents of such misuse have been reported umpteen times to need further elaboration – the demand is entirely valid.
The ever-growing resentment and opposition against it is bad news for the Congress at a time when it faces elections in various States next year. It is entirely possible that Team Anna will campaign against the Congress and its allies in the Assembly elections, complicating things for the UPA which is already faced with a resurgent Opposition. But, apart from the immediate political fallout, the Congress should worry about – if it still considers the need to worry when it should – a further loss of image. How is a party that is consistently losing credibility, going to continue leading a coalition with any amount of success?
Of course, the Congress has entirely itself to blame for the fresh round of crisis. After the resolution expressing the ‘sense of the House’ had been adopted by Parliament, the people had begun to look with optimism at the party and the Government. They had begun to appreciate the Congress’s stand that Mr Hazare cannot always keep pushing his agenda in a dictatorial manner. It then appeared that Mr Hazare’s sheen was wearing off. Had the Congress been rightly guided, it would have seized the opportunity and neutralised the activist by ensuring that its members in the parliamentary panel piloted strong provisions for the proposed legislations.
The brilliant idea of Congress members in the panel to promote Mr Rahul Gandhi’s agenda of making the Lokpal a constitutional body, has left the party more vulnerable than before. There is perhaps merit in the idea as a long-term solution. But the issue here is not one of merit, but of intention. The point of making the Lokpal a constitutional body has never been a matter of debate. Where then was the need to introduce the subject when there are so many other unresolved points that need to be sorted out? It was a calculated move by the Congress to deflect people’s attention from the desire to have a Lokpal Bill in the form the people of the country want. That cunning strategy has, unfortunately for the Congress, boomeranged, with Mr Gandhi himself under direct attack from the anti-corruption activist for trying to derail the process to have an effective Lokpal Bill passed in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament.
Not having learned any lessons in its past dealings with the anti-corruption movement, and showing absolutely no indication of doing so this time as well, the Congress is doomed to ignominy in the coming days. No amount of effort by its spin doctors, both within the party and in the media, is going to restore the credibility that it has been losing in huge lumps with consistent regularity. It can still redeem the situation by accepting the Opposition demands to include the Prime Minister and the lower bureaucracy in the Lokpal’s ambit, and free the Central Bureau of Investigation from political control. Will it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

BJP should not flog a dying horse

(First appeared in The Pioneer dated December 8, 2011)


The Congress-led UPA Government is slipping deeper and deeper into a coma of poor governance. But the BJP, which is its main rival and is favourably placed to win the next Lok Sabha election in 2014, should focus on that challenge, instead of trying to further discredit an already doomed regime. The BJP should not confuse issues on which it should hang the Congress-led Government with those that it should exploit to tactically back it and harvest real gains in the coming months. There is no reason why the Congress should be allowed to get away with its sob story that its pro-reform policies are being killed by an obstinate Opposition.

As an example, let us take the furore over the Government’s proposal to invite foreign direct investment up to 51 per cent in multi-brand retail. Forget the developments in Parliament over the issue. Also keep aside the protests of the Left parties that are forever hallucinating on the supposed takeover of the Indian economy by ‘imperialist, capitalist, profiteering sharks’. The most significant development is the vehement and the very public opposition of Congress allies like the Trinamool Congress and the DMK to the UPA Government’s decision. Even more embarrassing to the Government has been the increasing number of Congressmen who have gone on record against the move to get FDI in multi-brand retail. This is the sorry situation the Congress has been in, and it is a situation that the BJP ought to have cleverly exploited. But what did the principal opposition party do? It merely added its voice to the clamour, and became part of the chorus. What’s the big deal, then?

The party had an option, and a tempting one at that, if only it had seen far and wide. The BJP could have inflicted a masterstroke by backing the Government on the issue. Imagine the embarrassment of the Congress in being bailed out by, of all parties, the BJP, while its own allies are opposed to it. The BJP’s tactical support would have fully exposed the UPA for the fragmented group that it is on the FDI issue, and left it vulnerable for the rest of its tenure. If the Government had in that situation refused the offer of support from the BJP it would have been accused of cussedness and lack of commitment to stand by its decision on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. On the other hand, by accepting the support it would have further angered its allies. That could have facilitated a separation with them. Either way the BJP would have benefitted.

If the BJP had done the ‘unthinkable’, the party would have gained in two other ways: One, it would have collected applause for rising above partisan politics; and two, it would have lived up to its image of being the party that was the first to have strongly spoken in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail. After all, it was the NDA Government under the prime ministership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee that had strongly favoured the opening of various sectors of the Indian economy to global markets. The BJP, being the major constituent of the NDA, had then naturally basked in the glory of being a pro-reform party. Therefore, supporting the UPA on the issue would have been a natural extension of that thinking, and not some sudden disruption in the BJP’s ideology.

On the contrary, by adding its voice to the opponents of the decision, the BJP faced a tough time justifying its changed stance. Although it had valid points for the change in its position, the general impression that got around is that the party had shifted its position out of opportunism. After all, support to FDI was part of the NDA’s election manifesto for 2004, though it was not part of the BJP’s agenda. Had the NDA won in 2004, the BJP then as its main constituent would have honoured its promise and opened up retail to foreign direct investment.

The BJP realises that rhetoric cannot substitute informed opinion, nor can fiery comments be given primacy over cool-headed discussions to resolve the bone of contention. A BJP leader’s reported remark that she would gladly reduce to ashes a foreign multi-brand store may provide warmth to her supporters in the coming winter chill, but it does not, thankfully, reflect the thinking of the senior leadership, which is articulate and informed. It is one thing if leaders of regional parties that have no vision or purpose other than to exploit caste and communal considerations to gain power make such outrageous comments, But a responsible national party like the BJP can do without such statements. Instead, the party should offer facts and figures that establish the dangers of allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

Perhaps the BJP believes that any form of support to FDI in retail will boomerang on it in the coming Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. But political considerations alone cannot be the reason for a shift in stand. Moreover, it is presumptuous to assume that the vast majority of the people are against FDI in retail. The frenzy let loose by politicians of various shades against the decision is largely orchestrated and is no firm indicator of any spontaneous mass anger against FDI.

Let us accept for a moment that the BJP cannot possibly have brazenly bailed out the UPA from a crisis that the latter created for itself by its ill-timed decision. Still, given its earlier support to FDI and to avoid the embarrassment (that it now faces) of a complete reversal in its position, the BJP could have nuanced its opposition and left the doors open to some sort of a compromise. It could have, for instance, handled the issue like it did with the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill — allowing it to be passed in the Lok Sabha after enforcing amendments to raise the liability cap on suppliers in case of accidents.

The comparison makes sense, although one has to do with legislative approval and other is an executive decision. Like in the FDI case, the BJP’s public position on the civil nuclear deal with the US had been that of a positivist. This was in contrast to that of the Left parties which opposed the agreement lock, stock and barrel — like they have done in retail.

The BJP pursued the reservations it had on some provisions of the deal, while sending across the signal that it was not opposed to the Bill in principle. The end result has been a stronger civil nuclear liability Act.

In the case of FDI in retail, the party could have adopted a similar tactic and pressured the Government into announcing concrete measures that would adequately protect domestic interests in the face of competition from foreign multi-brand retailers.

Sadly, it thought that instant gratification made more political sense. It is true that the Opposition did achieve a sort of victory by compelling the Government to suspend the decision to have FDI in multi-brand retail. But it would have been better if the BJP had coerced the UPA into tweaking the policy in such a way that the decision for FDI need not have been scrapped, but accepted with the kind of amendments the Opposition wanted to protect domestic interests.

There is no need for the BJP to continue flogging a dying horse.